RealClearSports: An Unstable Sporting World

By Art Spander

Bill Bradley, the basketball great, "Dollar Bill'' with the Knicks and then U.S. Senator, said maybe more than once the great change in sports is change. Teams and players used to be as immobile as an oak. It was reassuring. We knew who was where.

Now it's near chaos. The LPGA is dumping its commissioner. The NBA has shrunk its salary cap. Ron Artest, for about the hundredth time -- or does it just seem that way -- is joining another club in the NBA, the Lakers.

The San Francisco 49ers are intent on becoming the Santa Clara 49ers, although no way they use that name. When you live or play in California, instability is a way of life.

The Sacramento Kings want to move. The San Diego Chargers want to move. The Oakland Raiders want to move. The Oakland A's want to move. Probably tied in with the San Andreas Fault.

But we crazies on the West Coast don't have a patent on this stuff. The Nets are trying to get out of Jersey and go to Brooklyn. The Dodgers, of course, got out of Brooklyn and went to L.A., but that was when Joe Torre still was a teenager. In Brooklyn.

Even Europe is in for a massive sporting overhaul. The great soccer teams are ready to give the back of the hand to the wusses. The thinking is why should Real Madrid and the guys who spent millions on players such as Cristiano Renaldo be unable to recoup their investment, being forced to play lesser clubs in their own country?

According to Matthew Syed of the Times of London, geography isn't going to mean much any more. What will count, as in the United States, is wealth. So Real Madrid and FC Barcelona, and their global superstars, will be facing Manchester United or Bayern Munich or AC Milan.

As Syed asks, "Would Chelsea make more cash playing regularly against Wigan Athletic and Hull City, as at present, or Barcelona and Inter Milan in a Super League?''

The LPGA isn't making enough cash with Carolyn Bivens as commissioner. The tough economic times and her rigid policies -- not including the intolerance of trying to force the ladies to speak English or take a hike --have stripped the organization of numerous tournaments. There's a rebellion under way.

People who ought to be worrying about signing their scorecards have been signing a petition.

It's all about freedom, we're told. Freedom for golfers to speak their mind. Freedom for team players to leave when they choose. Freedom for franchises to look for some over-eager, misguided community to build them a new stadium or ballpark or arena.

The old reserve clause was a form of slavery. This is a form of confusion. Is Jason Kidd coming, going or staying? Is he on the Mavericks, the Knicks, the Nets or the Cal alumni?

Carolyn Bivens, you can be certain, is going. According to Golfweek magazine, "it's the latest blow to a tour which has lost seven tournaments since 2007,'' including three in Hawaii. That's real trouble, when people won't come to Hawaii to play golf.

The benchmark of this distress was that city on Lake Erie. Twenty years ago, the Indians and Browns played in Cleveland Municipal Stadium. To prove we know nothing, if someone asked which team might move the unanimous response would have been the Indians, who had pathetic crowds. The Browns sold out every game.

However, the Browns shifted to Baltimore, while the Indians stayed, were provided a new park and had years of sellouts. Now the Browns are back. Sort of sporting musical chairs. For hundreds of millions of dollars.

Candlestick Park opened in 1960 for the San Francisco Giants, then was expanded in 1970 and '71 to bring in the 49ers, who were playing in a dump, if a historic dump, called Kezar Stadium. Now Candlestick is a dump, or to be exact, "a pigsty,'' as designated by former team president Eddie DeBartolo.

The Niners, who won five Super Bowls, contend they deserve better. And they do. But 40 miles away in Santa Clara?

San Francisco mayor Gavin Newsom doesn't want to be remembered as the politico who couldn't hang on to the city's most famous, most successful and original hometown team, the one that didn't move from New York, as the Giants, or Philadelphia, as the Warriors.

But in this era when nothing is tied down, athletes, teams or golf commissioners, he doesn't want the place once known as the "city that knows how,'' to be put in the vise, squeezed during these times of foreclosures and declining tax collections.

Newsom, on a Comcast program called "Chronicle Live," said he wanted to "avoid being used as leverage'' in the Niners' negotiations with Santa Clara for that maybe-it-will-maybe-it-won't stadium.

That's all sports has become, Mr. Mayor, leverage. Real Madrid has it. Ron Artest has it. Carolyn Bivens doesn't. The next move is not very far off.

As a reporter since 1960, Art Spander is a living treasure of sports history. A recipient of the Dick McCann Memorial Award -- given for his long and distinguished career covering professional football -- he has earned himself a spot in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. And he has recently been honored with the Lifetime Achievement Award by the PGA of America for 2009.

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© RealClearSports 2009 

SF Examiner: In Britain, every contest overflows with emotion

By Art Spander
Special to The Examiner

— Maybe they have the right idea here. Sports are not merely fun and games, items to be covered dispassionately — Giants, win; Raiders sign tackle — but reflections of history.

In Britain, even the smallest of competitions invariably are “us against them.”

“Them” can be a sporting club in the next town. Or Tiger Woods. Or at the moment, with The Ashes at stake in a cricket competition which extends back to 1877, Australia — a nation which started as an English penal colony.

One of England’s stars, Kevin Pietersen, made the most banal of comments, alluding to the Aussies down a couple of stars from past teams which, of course, whupped the English. “Pietersen Expects Australia to Come Out Fighting,” said the headline in the Telegraph.

All sports news is reported subjectively and patriotically, reminding one of that line about the World War II general, Bernard Montgomery, of whom Winston Churchill said, “In defeat unbeatable; in victory unbearable.”

Nobody simply is beaten here, say as Randy Johnson when he was injured on Sunday. Losers are “brave” or “hopeless” or “worthless.” Or worse, were “cheated.” Somebody always is “accusing” an opponent of an impropriety.

We have our issues, certainly, the Tuck Play (it was a fumble), but not like the Brits. When South Africa beat the British Lions in rugby a few days ago it was because one of the South African players gouged the eye of a Brit.

“Question,” asked The Sun, “When can you gouge? Answer, when you turn out for South Africa.” The Sun went on to point out, “South Africa’s ruling body covered up Schalk Burger’s eye-gouging shame.” Burger was listed as “a thug.”

So, with a variation on that theme, we describe the Warriors as pathetic, the 49ers as clueless, the A’s as disgraceful, the Raiders as mortifying. We say the Giants warn the Dodgers about using Manny. That might get some attention.

And we take sides, as they do when Andy Murray, the tennis star, is at Wimbledon. “Hopes of a nation are with you, Andy.” Sure, “Hopes of a region are with you, Cal.” (Excepting those people at Stanford.)

The reverse was when on a single weekend a few years ago, England flops in World Cup soccer, cricket, track and who knows what else, “We’re Rubbish,” proclaimed the Daily Mail.

Imagine the English tabloid headlines on our flawed franchises. “Sell them Chris, if you know what’s good for you.” “Please don’t let the Sharks near the playoffs again.” “Why can’t Sabean find a slugger?”

Newspapers are in trouble in Britain, as the United States, but like the Aussie cricketers, they come out fighting, battling for readers the way the English did at Bunker Hill, or was it Henman Hill at Wimbledon?

Every contest is a matter of pride. Of good and evil. Of overflowing emotion. When Ana Ivanovic quit against Venus Williams at Wimbledon because of an injury, the Sun headline was “Venus sad for hurt Ana.” And about Andy Roddick’s upcoming quarter-final against Lleyton Hewitt, “Rod warns: Lleyt is great.”

But not as great as the people who write sports in England. Be warned, they are not rubbish.

Art Spander has been covering Bay Area sports since 1965 and also writes on and E-mail him at

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Copyright 2009 SF Newspaper Company
7:28PM Booming Roddick brings out best in great Federer

By Art Spander
The Sports Xchange/

WIMBLEDON, England -- The match that seemed endless ended too soon for Andy Roddick. If the man who beat him in one of the greatest Wimbledon men's finals isn't the finest tennis player in history, he'll do for a long while.

Roger Federer proved he has courage and staying power, as well as some of the finest strokes ever, by hanging on to defeat Roddick 5-7, 7-6 (6), 7-6 (5), 3-6, 16-14 on a Sunday when Centre Court couldn't take much more suspense.

The victory was Federer's 15th in a Grand Slam, the game's Big Four, separating him from Pete Sampras, with whom he had been tied and who, after an overnight flight from Los Angeles, was in the stands to watch his record fall.

"Thanks for coming, Pete," said Federer, the 27-year-old Swiss. "It's such a pleasure to do it in front of such great legends."

Besides Sampras, the famed royal box included Bjorn Borg, Manolo Santana, Ilie Nastase and Rod Laver, champions all who had come to see whether Federer could produce on demand.

And despite Roddick -- the American doomed to become the other man in these dramas, having now lost to Federer three times in a Wimbledon final -- Roger managed to do what was needed.

"My head is still spinning," Federer said after a match that, because there are no tiebreakers in the fifth set at Wimbledon, went 4 hours, 18 minutes.

The 16-14 set, which required 1 hour, 35 minutes, is said to be the longest fifth in a Slam, bypassing the 11-9 in the 1927 French Open, when Rene LaCoste defeated Bill Tilden. Talk about legends.

Roddick will not be spoken of with those two, or with Federer, who beat him for the 19th time in 21 meetings, eight of those in Slams, four at Wimbledon.

Rather, he will be discussed as the unfortunate individual who came along at the wrong time, the guy who did everything possible except overtake Federer.

It seemed he might in this third consecutive Wimbledon final to go five sets -- Rafael Nadal beat Federer last year -- Roddick let his chances get away. Or maybe Federer, as winners do, grabbed them.

Asked if he lost to the world's greatest tennis player, Roddick sighed, "Yeah."

In the second set, Roddick led Federer 6-2 in the tiebreak and at 6-5 had a volley to win the set. But the shot was wide, and Federer, with six consecutive points, went on to even the match at one set apiece.

"There was a pretty significant wind behind him," Roddick said of the shot, which went wide. "When he first hit it, I thought I wasn't going to play it. Last minute, it looked like it started dropping. I couldn't get my racket around on it."

Federer ended up winning the tiebreak 8-6 and in time he would win his sixth Wimbledon.

There was no falling on his knees this time. Rather, when Roddick shanked the final shot, Federer leaped like some NBA player about to hit a dunk shot.

"I'm sorry, Pete," Roddick said, addressing Sampras with his typical flippancy. "I tried to hold him off. But it was a pleasure playing here today. Pete, Manolo, I still hope someday my name will be up there with theirs as a winner of this tournament.

"But I just want to say congratulations to Roger. He is a true champion and deserves everything he gets."

In the great dream here, the men's final of the All England Lawn Tennis Championships would have been between Federer and the Scot, Andy Murray. In anticipation, some people paid $2,000 to $3,000 for tickets.

Maybe the Brits didn't get what they wanted, but you can get what you need, as the Rolling Stones sing -- and you can't get much more English than they are. What tennis always needs is a final full of drama, a final in which every point is critical.

That's what happened Sunday.

Roddick used more than his powerful serve -- his fastest was 143 mph -- to stay even with Federer. He wasn't broken once until the very last point of the match, holding serve the first 37 times. But Federer won the tiebreakers and eventually the match and the title.

In the fifth set, when the score got to 14-13, it seemed as if somebody had missed an extra point rather than a first serve.

In somewhat of a reversal of expectations, Roddick was strong in rallies, Federer on serves.

"He served great," Roddick said. "If he hadn't served as well, I'd probably be sitting here in a better mood." Federer had 50 aces, Roddick only 27.

When asked what makes Federer what he is, Roddick shrugged. "I don't know where to start," he said. "He makes it real tough. He was having trouble picking up my serve today for the first time ever. He just stayed the course.

"You didn't even get the sense he was really frustrated. He gets a lot of credit for a lot of things, but not how many matches he digs deep and toughs it out. He doesn't get a lot of credit for that because it looks easy for him a lot of times."

It wasn't easy. "This could have gone on two more hours," said Federer. He already was wearing a warmup jacket with a golden "15" on the back.

That puts him one ahead of Sampras, of course, and 14 ahead of Roddick, whose only Slam victory came in the 2003 U.S. Open. For a while, the way he played, the way he battled, there was a thought he could wrench away a second.

But when someone asked him to describe what he did, Roddick could only say, "I lost."

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© 2009 CBS Interactive. All rights reserved.
10:54AM Serena beats Venus for her third Wimbledon title

Special to Newsday

WIMBLEDON, England - She's a tennis player again. The champion again. The Serena Williams who wanted to dabble in television and fashion is now back on the stage she knows best and back on top. Who said there are no second acts in American lives?

Serena won the battle of the Williams sisters, the battle of Wimbledon, defeating her older sibling, Venus, 7-6 (3), 6-2, Saturday in the women's final.

This was Serena's 11th major singles title and, starting with the U.S. Open last September, her third in the last four. She's missing only the French, where she made it to the quarterfinals.Not long ago, television commentator Mary Carillo reminded her audience that an athlete, in this case Serena, would regret not taking advantage of her peak years.

But now Serena is looking forward again. At 27, she is talking about competition for another three or four years. She's back where she was in 2003 and 2004. In fact, she's better than she was in '03 and '04.

"I've played a lot this year, and I've paid the price. I've really just wanted to focus on tennis, and I've really been doing that.''

What she did to Venus, who had won 20 straight matches, 34 straight sets, two straight Wimbledons and a total of five overall, was keep her moving, slugging forehands to the corners. Then Serena won the first-set tiebreak, reminiscent of the U.S. Open quarterfinals, where she beat Venus with two tiebreakers.

"When I went out on court, I felt this was one of the few times I didn't expect to come out with the win. I felt I had nothing to lose. Then when I won that first set, I was like, 'Wow, this is great.' No matter what, I'm a set away.''

Venus again had wads of tape on her left leg to protect a knee her father, Richard, said was a problem but which she refused to discuss. "I think I played well,'' Venus said, noticeably dispirited, "but she just seemed to play better. There's no easy way of losing, especially when it's so close to the crown.''

This was the fourth time Serena had beaten Venus in a major final and the 11th time Serena had beaten Venus of the 21 matches they have played overall.

"In the tiebreak,'' Venus said, "I would play a good shot, and she'd just hit a winner off of it or put me in a position where she could hit another winner.''

In other words, despite predictions, Serena controlled the match, not Venus, who conceded in the second set she began to rush her shots. "I think I lost it from the ground [strokes],'' was Venus' analysis.

There was a brief rain shower about an hour before the 2 p.m. (British summer time) start, but after tarps were placed on court, the sun came out, and there was no thought of utilizing the new roof.

What Venus could have utilized was that big serve, but as she mentioned a few days ago, against Serena her 127-mph serve often comes flying back.

"It feels so amazing," Serena said after being presented the trophy, called coincidentally the Venus Rosewater Dish. "I can't believe I'm holding it and Venus isn't in. She always wins.''

Serena has won three of the past four major singles titles, though when the world rankings come out tomorrow, she will be No. 2 to Dinara Safina, whom Venus destroyed in the semifinals.

"If you hold three Grand Slam titles, maybe you should be No. 1, but not on the WTA Tour, obviously," Serena said.

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Copyright © 2009, Newsday Inc.

4:09PM In all-Williams final, little sister has all the answers

By Art Spander
The Sports Xchange/

WIMBLEDON, England -- It was the little sister who came up big. It was Serena Williams who made the shots, made the comments and, with a T-shirt that offered both a laugh and a reference to her greatness, made everyone understand she has a sense of humor as well as a brilliant forehand.

Venus Williams was the defending champion. Venus Williams was going for her sixth Wimbledon singles title. Venus Williams was the favorite. Venus Williams, however, came in second in a two-sister battle at Centre Court.

In truth, it was less a battle than a romp. For Serena, that is, who defeated Venus 7-6 (3), 6-2 on a Saturday of great potential and disappointing outcome. Not in who won, since both the Williams are champions, but in how Serena won.

Venus was going for a third straight title. Venus had won 20 straight matches at Wimbledon, 34 straight sets. Then she lost two straight sets. In 1 hour, 28 minutes.

"She had an answer for everything," Venus said of Serena.

But we had no answers for what happened to Venus, who again wore tape to brace a left knee her absent father Richard -- he had flown home to Florida to avoid watching daughter against daughter -- said was a problem but of which Venus, stubbornly in denial, said, "I have no complaints."

She no longer has the trophy that carries her name, the Venus Rosewater Dish, given the champion. For the third time, but the first time in six years, that belongs to 27-year-old Serena, who came to the news conference in a T-shirt that read, "Are you looking at my titles?"

"Well," explained a particularly jovial Serena, in full commercial mode, "this shirt is available at Nike stores, if you guys want to go get one. I thought [Friday] night, when I was getting my stuff together, if I win, I'll wear this because I would have 11 titles and I wouldn't know if you were looking at my titles or my Gatorade bottle."

Hey, it's been a great few years. She's entitled to have some fun. Serena has won three of the last four Slams, the U.S. Open in September, Australian Open in February and now in July, Wimbledon, her 11th Slam overall.

After Thursday's semis, in which Serena saved match point against Elena Dementieva, she said, "Obviously, Venus is the favorite." And Serena conceded when she walked out on Centre Court, "This is one of the few times I didn't expect to come out with the win."

So she played a gambling style, using her big serve, ripping forehands into the corners. Never was broken. And then after winning the first set on a tiebreaker (she had beaten Venus in the U.S. Open quarters on two tiebreakers) took advantage of Venus' suddenly ineffective serve and lack of movement.

"I felt like I had nothing to lose," said Serena. "When I won that first set, I was like, 'Wow, this is great.' No matter what, I'm a set away."

They are siblings, but they are not alike. Serena shows her emotions, tells you what she's thinking. Venus is the mystery lady, revealing very little.

On the BBC telecast, Tracy Austin said Venus' second serve was "slower and predictable." In the interview room later, Venus said, "I don't agree on that; [Serena] had a hard time stepping into my second serve."

Venus did concede she played too far behind the baseline in the second set when she was broken twice, the second time on match point.

"I tried my best," said 29-year-old Venus. "She just played so well. She really lifted her game. There's no easy way of losing, especially when it's so close to the crown.

"She played great, especially in the tiebreak. I don't think I did too many things wrong in the tiebreak. Just, I would hit a good shot, and she would hit a winner off it or put me in position where she could hit another winner."

The sisters have played six times in Grand Slam finals. Serena has won four. The sisters have played 21 times overall. Serena has won 11.

Serena is No. 2 in the women's rankings, behind Dinara Safina, who was crushed 6-1, 6-0 by Venus in the Wimbledon semis. The points system is skewed, and confusing.

"I'd rather be No. 2 and hold three Grand Slams in the past year than be No. 1 and not have any," Serena insisted. Then with a bit of a needle she added, "I see myself as No. 2. That's where I am. I think Dinara did a great job to get to No. 1. She won Rome and Madrid."

A couple of years back, injuries and boredom had an effect on Serena, who didn't play a great deal and didn't do well when she was playing.

"I feel like I've played a lot this year and I've paid the price," said Serena. "For several years now, three or four years, I just really wanted to focus on tennis, and I've really been doing that. I feel like this is where I want to be, and this is my chance to capitalize on everything."

In the Wimbledon women's final of 2009, no question she certainly capitalized on her big sister.

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© 2009 CBS Interactive. All rights reserved.